My Autobiography: Part 1

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This document is a necessary abridgement of a narrative work of 2600 pages; it has been truncated here to fit into the small space for this document. This document is both an outline and a curtailment of an epic-opus, an abbreviated, a compressed, a boiled down, a potted, a shorn, a mown, a more compact version of my larger epic-work.

This abridgement of the 7th edition of my autobiography will include changes in the months ahead. When a significant number of changes are made an 8th edition will be brought out. It is my hope, although I cannot guarantee, that this brief exposure here will give readers a taste, a desire, for more.

This post is Part 1 of my autobiography.

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My Autobiography: Part 1

  1. 1. PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS: autobiographical study and a study in autobiography 7TH EDITION By Ron Price TABLE OF CONTENTS VOLUME 1: PREFACES Six Prefaces to Six Editions Chapter 1 Introduction 1 Chapter 2 Introduction 2 Chapter 3 Letters Chapter 4 Diary/Journal/Notebooks Chapter 5 Interviews Chapter 6 A Life in Photographs VOLUME 2: 1
  2. 2. PRE-PIONEERING Chapter 1 Ten Year Crusade Years: 1953-1963 Chapter 2 Pre-Youth Days: 1956-1959 Chapter 3 Pre-Pioneering Days: 1959-1962 VOLUME 3: HOMEFRONT PIONEERING Chapter 1 Pioneering: Homefront 1: 1962-1964 Chapter 2 Pioneering: Homefront 2: 1965-1967 Chapter 3 Pioneering Homefront 3: 1967-1968 Chapter 4 Pioneering Homefront 4: 1968-1971 VOLUME 4: 2
  3. 3. INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING Chapter 1 International Pioneering 1: 1971-1973 Chapter 2 International Pioneering 2: 1973-1974 Chapter 3 International Pioneering 3: 1974-1978 Chapter 4 International Pioneering 4: 1978-1982 Chapter 5 International Pioneering 5: 1982-1988 Chapter 6 International Pioneering 6: 1988-1996 Chapter 7 International Pioneering 7: 1996-2010 Chapter 8 Epilogue VOLUME 5: COMMENTARIES, ESSAYS AND POEMS 3
  4. 4. Chapter 1 Credo, Poems and Resumes Chapter 2 Pioneering An Overview Chapter 3 Anecdote and Autobiography Chapter 4 Autobiography as Symbolic Representation Chapter 5 Essays on Autobiography Chapter 6 A Study of Community and Biography Chapter 7 About Poetry Chapter 8 Social Topics of Relevance Chapter 9 Praise and Gratitude __________________________________________________________ 4
  5. 5. SECTION I : Pre-Pioneering SECTION II : Homefront Pioneering SECTION III : International Pioneering The material below is found in other locations and, although not included in this autobiography, it could be useful for future autobiographical, biographical and historical work. ------------------------------------------- SECTION IV Characters/Biographies: 24 short sketches SECTION V Published Work:Essays-300-Volumes 1 to 4—1982-2010 SECTION VI Unpublished Work: Essays-Volumes 1 & 2---170 essays .......................1979-2010 Novels-Volumes 1 to 3---12 attempts ......................1983-2003 SECTION VII Letters : Volumes 1 to 25 :3000 letters.1960-2010 Volumes 26 to 50:2000 postings..2001-10 SECTION VIII Poetry : Booklets 1-61: 6500 poems....1980-2010 SECTION IX Notebooks: .........300.............1962-2010 SECTION X.1 Photographs : 12 files/booklets/folios....1908-2010 SECTION X.2 Journals : Volumes 1 to 5.....…........1844-2010 5
  6. 6. SECTION XI Memorabilia : 1908-2010 DEDICATION This book is dedicated to the Universal House of Justice in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary in April 2013 of its first election in April 1963 and to Alfred J. Cornfield, my grandfather, whose autobiography was an inspiration to the one found here. Caveats: 1. The document below is a necessary abridgement of a narrative work of 2600 pages; it has been truncated here to fit into the small space for this document at Bahai Library Online. This document is both an outline and a curtailment of an epic-opus, an abbreviated, a compressed, a boiled down, a potted, a shorn, a mown, a more compact version of my larger epic-work. This abridgement of the 7th edition of my autobiography will include changes in the months ahead. When a significant number of changes are made an 8th edition will be brought out. It is my hope, although I cannot guarantee, that this brief exposure here will give readers a taste, a desire, for more. 2. The inclusion of quotation marks, apostrophes and accents has often proved difficult as have the addition of footnotes. Hopefully this will be remedied at a later date. 6
  7. 7. _____________________________________________________________ PREFACE TO THIS SEVENTH EDITION: A 2600 page, five volume narrative, a 300 page study of the poetry of Roger White, the major Bahai; poet of that half-century; 6600 prose-poems, 120 pages of personal interviews, 400 essays; 5000 letters, emails and interent posts; 300 notebooks, six volumes of diaries/journals, 12 volumes of photographs and memorabilia, a dozen attempts at a novel, indeed, an epic- opus of material has been integrated into an analysis of my religion, my times and my life. This variety of genres aims at embellishing and deepening my own experience and that of readers. Only a very small portion of this epic work is found here, a portion that readers can dip into anywhere. This is the autobiography of an ordinary Bahai, perhaps the most extensive one to date. This epic-opus illustrates what hardly needs illustrating these days, namely, that you dont have to be a celebrity or a person of some fame or renoun to have a biography or autobiography. This literary genre is now so popular that men and women of little interest and significance feel impelled to record their life-stories. In the wide-wide world my life is clearly is this category. The Bahá'í Faith provides, it seems to me, a nice balance between the importance of community and the necessity for that 7
  8. 8. community not to stifle the voice of its members. This is not an easy balance to strike but in the decades ahead the world will find that this Faith is one of the organizations, perhaps the critical one, which provides the mix of freedom and authority, unity and diversity, without which planetary survival will be difficult if not impossible. The autobiographies and the biographies in the Bahai community that have come into Bahai bookshops since the Kingdom of God had its inception in 1953 with the completion of the Bahai temple in Chicago are, for the most part, about individuals of some significance in the Bahai system of social status or stratification like Hands of the Cause Furutan, George Townshend and Martha Root. Extant autobiographies and biographies have been written about or by individuals with some special, publicly recognized, talent or experience like: Andre Brugiroux who hitch-hiked around the planet; Dizzy Gillespie or Marvin Holladay both of whom had a special musical talent and fame; Louis Bourgeois or Roger White, men of great artistic or literary talent; Angus Cowan or Marion Jack two of the 20th century's great teachers. There are now hundreds of short & often moving biographical & 8
  9. 9. autobiographical pieces by or about quite ordinary people with simple stories of their lives and their often significant contributions to the work of this Cause. Such accounts can be found in the many volumes of Bahai World and other books like Claire Vreelands And the Trees Clapped Their Hands. If, as Shakespeare suggests in his play Hamlet, “bevity is the soul of wit,”1 there is a potential for much wit in much Baha’i biography. Sadly there may be little here in this work if one follows the same reasoning. But if, as Walter Pater emphasizes in his essay on style, the greatness of a work lies in its content, perhaps there is hope for this work.2 Like the poet-writer Jorge Luis Borges, I like to think of myself as unusually liberal in my insistence that every reader must have his own autonomy: "I think the reader should enrich what he's reading. He should misunderstand the text: he should change it into something else."3 Somebody else's original gift and I like to think that whatever quality of writing is found here is a gift, can't be duplicated, but the study of it can always help to make us a more careful guardian of our own. Clive James makes this point at his new website. And 1 Shakespeare, Hamle t, Act II, Scene II. 2 Walter Pater in W.B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions, MacMillan, London, 1971(1961), p.viii. 3 Adam Feinstein, “Borges: A Life by Edwin Williamson,” The Guardian, 1 January 2005 9
  10. 10. even if a reader has no plans to be a writer himself, there is always an extra fascination in watching a craftsman at work. Writing in any form is never just the style, but it isn't just the subject matter either. Here is one of the first extensive autobiographies about one of these quite ordinary Bahais, without fame, rank, celebrity status or an especially acknowledged talent, who undertook work he often felt unqualified or incompetent to achieve, with his sins of omission and commission, but with achievements which, he emphasizes, were all gifts from God in mysterious & only partly understandable ways, ways alluded to again and again in the Bahai writings. They were achievements that arose, such is his view, due to his association with this new Revelation and its light and were not about name, fame or renoun, although some of these now tarnished terms play subtely and not-so-subtely on the edges of many a life in our media age. These achievements and their significance are sometimes termed: success, victory, service, enterprize, sacrifice, transformation, all words with many implications for both the individual and society. This story, this narrative, is unquestionably one of transformation: of a community, a Cause and a life that has taken place in a time of auspicious 10
  11. 11. beginnings for both humankind and the Bahai community, at one of historys great climacterics. The concept of this oeuvre, this prose and poetry, as epic, took shape from 1997 to 2007 after more than 50 years of association with what may well prove to be the greatest epic in human history, the gradual realization of the wondrous vision, the brightest emanations of the mind of the prophet-founder of the Bahai Faith and what Bahais believe will become, over time, the fairest fruit of the fairest civilization the world has yet seen. During these last ten years, my final years of full-time teaching in a technical college in Australia and the first years of early retirement, this concept of his work as epic has evolved. By 2010 I had been writing seriously for at least 50 years and writing poetry for 45. The concept of this written opus as epic gradually crystallized after more than 40 years of my association with and involvement in the Bahai Cause between the two Holy Years 1952/3 and 1992/3 of the Formative Age and at a time when the projects on Mt. Carmel and the garden terraces on that Hill of God were being completed. With the increasing elaboration, definition and development of the structure and concept, the notion and framework, of this entire collected work as epic has come a conceptual home of reflection, memory, imagination, action and vision which readers will 11
  12. 12. find described, albeit briefly, in this abridged, this truncated, edition and document at Bahai Library Online. No intelligent writer knows if he is any good, wrote T.S. Eliot; he must live with the possibility, the theoretical uncertainty, that his entire work has all been a waste of time. This provocative idea of Eliot’s, I believe, has some truth. But whether for good or ill--write I must. One of the results of this epic work is another provocative idea which I like to think also has some truth; namely, that my work was a part of the new patterns of thought, action, integration and the gathering momentum of Bahai scholarly activity indeed, the change in culture evidenced in the Four Year Plan(1996-2000), that befitting crescendo to the achievements of the 20th century; that my epic work was a part, too, of that very beginning of the process of community building, a new culture of learning and growth,4 and, finally, a part of those traces which Abdul-Baha said shall last forever. To approach this epic or even the truncated edition of my 2600 page narrative in two Parts at Bahai Library Online and read it certainly requires an effort on the part of a hopeful internet user. I like to think that such an 4 See my 275 page, 130,000 word book entitled: The New Culture of Learning and Growth in the Bahá'í Community at Bahá'í Library Online. 12
  13. 13. effort will be rewarded, that such an exercise on the part of the reader will be worthwhile. Of course, as a writer, I know that I can make no such guarantee. Some writers are read most widely for their fiction; there is often a closeness for them of the two worlds, reality and invention. Fiction for these same writers often represents a mere short step from their essays or their poetry. A similar sensibility pervades all their work in whatever genre. I do not write of reality and invention, at least not consciously. Fiction does not inhabit my several genres, although I like to think there is a common sensibility across all my writing—but I’m not so sure. I leave such an analysis, such a statement, to readers. The American poet William Carlos William’s used the term locality or ground and expressed his agreement with Edgar Allen Poe that this locality or ground was to be acquired by the “whole insistence in the act of writing upon its method in opposition to some nameless rapture over nature. . . with a gross rural sap; he wanted a lean style, rapid as a hunter and with an aim as sure — Find the ground, on your feet or on your belly. . . . He counsels writers to borrow nothing from the scene but to put all the weight of the 13
  14. 14. effort into the WRITING.”5 For me, for my written expression, this locality or ground in either my verse or my prose was not easily attained. The evolution of my oeuvre since the 1960s and its present style here in Pioneering Over Four Epochs reveals my long struggle to capture the complex interrelationships between self, society and the sacred. The time is ripe to articulate questions about the complex interdependence of internationalism, nationalism and locality and the critical need for a basis for communitas communitatum and to infuse literature and social analysis with a relevant vocabulary. After several thousand years in which the world has been the private preserve of a small leisured class, something that can truly be called humanity is being born and a world society fit for human beings to live in. The process is both slow and fast. Like many writers and thinkers, artists and entrepreneurs, in these epochs of my life, I have found that there is a world towards which I can direct my loyalty and whatever skills, by some unmerited grace, with which I have been endowed. Many never find that world, never find some commitment into which they can throw their heart and soul. They have to settle for: self, 5 William Carlos Williams, “Edgar Allan Poe,” In the American Grain, New York,1925, p.227. 14
  15. 15. family, some local set of issues, perhaps a political party or a cause like the environment, whales, seals, a career, sex, indeed, the list is virtually endless. These commitments around which millions and billions sketch the meaning of their lives over the terra incognita of existence, around which the creative imagination with which each of these human beings is endowed, attempts to produce a reality that is consistent with that commitment, with the facts that it sees around it. And I do the same. This autobiography is a sketch of that commitment, that reality, that imagination and its set of facts. I am not concerned by the degree of exposure that is necessitated by autobiographical writing; I do not feel the need to provide a thin shield of anonymity over my life by using pseudonyms rather than real names, by using fictionalized autobiogrpahy or some form of story to hide behind. There is a shield here, but it is not the shield of anonymity; rather it is the shield that results from only a moderate confessionalism in my writing of these memoirs. I do not tell it all. It should be said, though, that even though this series of five volumes evolved over 25 years, it is still only a preliminary work. 15
  16. 16. It is, I like to think, detectably sparing with the main drama of my life which has had to do with how I reacted to this new Faith with my whole soul and how my soul became richer because of it. There is more than enough opinionated reflection and generous regret to make the narrative useful in its scope to the generations who are and will be new to this Faith as well as those who have imbibed its teachings for many a year. Still, I have only just sketched the story in 2600 words and the associated genre accretions. I’m gradually putting in the full story of my developing response to this Faith in these closing years of the first century of its Formative Age. But, however this work is written when all is said and done and I’m gathering rose-buds as I might in the hereafter, it will not be a stand-alone masterpiece. it’s far too long for those who come upon it. Frankly, I don’t think many will even get past these several prefaces. But perhaps I am too modest. The Bahá'í community has been colonizing the earth, arguably, since 1894, arguably again since 1919 and without doubt since 1937. Many of the 200 odd countries and territories have long been sufficiently in flower to spread their spiritual pollen on the pioneering-wind. There were always the loyal and dutiful, the sacrificial and the escapists, the theatrical types and the artistic, and then, after World War II in 1946, 1953 and 1963, came a 16
  17. 17. succession of Plans that spiritually conquered the planet, little did anyone know. Quite apart from the incredible letters of Shoghi Effendi, now ensconsed in a series, indeed a shelf, of books that it would take a long paragraph simply to enumerate and quite apart from the architectural splendour that was popping up in rare sites all over the planet, the Bahá'í Faith had, by the time my pioneering life began in 1962, discovered “a most wonderful and thrilling motion,” that in the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was “permeating all parts of the world.”6 This autobiography is but one part of that grand motion, one part of that immense permeation. PREFACE TO THE SIXTH EDITION On 19 January 1984 in the middle of the oppressive heat of that region’s summer. I had just received a copy of my maternal grandfather’s autobiography from a cousin in Canada. This autobiography was not the record of his entire life, just the part from his birth in England in 1872 to his marriage in 1901 in Hamilton Canada. I had browsed through but not read this one-hundred thousand word 400 page double-spaced narrative written “about 1921-1923,” by an autodidact, a self-educated man, when he was fifty years of age. As my grandfather indicated in 1953 when he wrote a 6 In God Passes By, Wilmette, 1957, p.351. 17
  18. 18. brief preface to that work while living in Burlington Ontario five years before his death, it was his hope that his story would “arouse interest.” As I revise this preface to the sixth edition of my autobiography or, more properly, this epic literary work, on 1 August 2008, my hope is that this work will also arouse interest. I began writing this preface on the vernal equinox here in Australia, 21 September 2007, and, hopefully, that date was an auspicious beginning to this work for future readers. I had no idea when I made that first diary entry in January 1984 that this literary beginning would become by insensible and sensible degrees an epic work containing: a five volume journal, a body of 6500 prose-poems; a collection of 5000 letters, emails and posts on the internet; a second collection of over 300 notebooks; a dozen unsuccessful attempts at a novel and; finally, in this narrative of 2600 pages, a total oeuvre that seems appropriate to refer to as an epic. I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon, two of my favourite historians, acquired their initial conceptualization for what became their life’s magnum opus, their epic: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of 18
  19. 19. Gibbon. Ten years ago in 1997 I began to think of writing an epic poem and so fashioned some ten pages as a beginning. My total poetic output by September 2000 I began to envisage in terms of an epic. The sheer size of my epic work makes a comparison and contrast with the poetic opus of Ezra Pound a useful one. Unlike the poet Ezra Pound’s epic poem Cantos which had its embryo as a prospective work as early as 1904, but did not find any concrete and published form until 1917, my poetry by 2000 I had come to define as epic, firstly in retrospect as I gradually came to see my individual poetic pieces as part of one immense epic opus; and secondly in prospect by the inclusion as the years went by of all future prose-poetic efforts. Such was the way I came increasingly to see my epic opus, sometimes in subtle and sometimes in quite specific and overt degrees of understanding and clarity from 1997 to 2000. This concept of my work as epic began, then, in 1997, after seventeen years(1980-1997) of writing and recording my poetic output and five years(1992-1997) of an intense poetic production. At that point, in 1997, this epic covered a pioneering life of 35 years, a Baha’i life of 38 years and an additional 5 years when my association with the Baha’i Faith began while it was seen more as a Movement in the public eye than a world religion. In December 1999 I forwarded my 38th booklet of 19
  20. 20. poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library: one for each year of my pioneering venture, 1962-1999. I entitled that booklet Epic. I continued to send my poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library until 30 December 2000. Part of some desire for a connective tissue pervaded the poetry and prose of this international pioneer transforming, in the process, the animate and inanimate features of my distant and changing pioneer posts into a kindred space whose affective kernel or centre was Mt. Carmel, the Hill of God, the Terraces and the Arc which had just been completed. This lengthening work evinces a pride, indeed, a veneration for the historical and cultural past of this new Faith. Part of my confidence and hope for the future derives from this past. There is a practical use to the local association I give expression to in this work. It as a means of putting the youth and the adults in this new Cause in touch with the great citizens and noble deeds of the past, inspiring them with a direct personal interest in their heritage. Along the way, I hope I am helping to create memorials and monuments with an international ethos, with a resolution that is indispensable in performing the duties of a type of global citizen of the future. I trust this work serves, too, as a dedication, a natural piety, by which the present becomes spiritually linked with the past. This last point is, of course, an 20
  21. 21. extension into the sphere of nationhood of Wordsworth’s near proverbial expression of desire for continuity in his own life— "The Child is father of the Man; / And I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each by natural piety" (1: 226). If this new Cause is to grow and mature in an integrated, organic, and humanistic manner, it must affirm the continuity between the present, the past, and the future. Countries that eschew militarism and imperialism need to venerate their cultural and national achievements if they are to maintain and foster the identity and independence of their citizens and with this an international spirit must inevitably sink deep into the recesses of the human heart and mind—for it is a question of survival. But it is the future that I love like a mistress, as W.B. Yeats says was the feeling that the poet William Blake had for times that had not yet come, which mixed their breath with his breath and shook their hair about him. The Baha’i Faith inspires a vision of the future that enkindles the imagination. This imagination German mystic and theologian Jacob Boehme said was the first emanation of the divinity. Blake cried out for a mythology and created his own.7 I do not have to do this since I have been 7 W.B. Yeats, op.cit., p.114. 21
  22. 22. provided with one within the metaphorical nature of Baha’i history, although I must interpret this mythology, this history, and give it a personal context. As I say I had begun to see all of my poetry somewhat like Pound’s Cantos which draws on a massive body of print or Analects, a word which means literary gleanings. The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and, in its current and published form, written from 1922 to 1962, is a great mass of literary gleanings. So is this true of the great mass of my poetry. The conceptualization of my poetry as epic, though, came long after its beginnings, beginnings as far back as 1980 or possibly 1962 at the very start of my pioneering life. The view, the concept of my work as epic began, as I say above, as a partly retrospective exercise and partly a prospective one. The epic journey that was and is at the base of my poetic opus is not only a personal one of forty-five years in the realms of belief, it is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Baha’u’llah which had its origins as far back as the 1840s and, if one includes the two precursors to this System, as far back as the middle of the eighteenth century when many of the revolutions and forces that are at the beginning of modern history find their origin: the American and French 22
  23. 23. revolutions, the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the revolution in the arts and sciences. Generally, the goal or aim of this work and the way my narrative imagination is engaged in this epic is to attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life and the lives of my contemporaries, as far as possible. I have sought and found a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference mixed with certainties of heart and spirit. Since this poetry is inspired by so much that is, and has been, part of the human condition, this epic it could be said has at its centre Life Itself and the most natural and universal of human activities, the act of creating narratives. When we die all that remains is our story. I have called this poetic work an epic because it deals with events, as all epics do, that are or will be significant to the entire society. It contains what Charles Handy, philosopher, business man and writer, calls the golden seed: a belief that what I am doing is important, probably unique, to the history and development of this System. This poetry, this epic, has to do with heroism and deeds in battle of contemporary and historical significance & manifestation. My work and my life, the belief System I have been associated with for over half a century, involves a great journey, not only my 23
  24. 24. own across two continents, but that of this Cause I have been identified with as it has expanded across the planet in my lifetime, in the second century of Baha’i history. The epic convention of the active intervention of God and holy souls from another world; and the convention of an epic tale, told in verse, a verse that is not a frill or an ornament, but is essential to the story, is found here. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in the inner life as much, if not more, than in the external story. In some ways, this is the most significant aspect of my work, at least from my point of view. Indeed, if I am to make my mark at this crucial point of history, it will be largely in the form of this epic literary work which tells of forty-six years of pioneering:1962-2008. But more importantly, the part I play, the mark I leave, is as an individual thread in the warp and weft that is the fabric and texture of the Baha’i community in its role as a society-building power. Indeed, the World Order lying enshrined in the teachings of Baha’u’llah that is “slowly and imperceptibly rising amid the welter and chaos of present-day civilization,” is becoming an increasingly familiar participant in the life of society and this epic is but one of the multitude of manifestations of that participation. My own life, my 24
  25. 25. own epic, within this larger Baha’i epic, had its embryonic phase in the first stage of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Divine Plan, 1937-1944, the first of three phases leading to the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 as the last year of my teen age life was about to begin and as, most importantly, the fulfilment of the prophecy of Daniel regarding “that blissful consummation” when “the Divine Light shall flood the world from the East to the West.” In the Greek tradition the Goddess of Epic Poetry was Calliope, one of the nine sisters of the Muses. Calliope and her sister Muses, not a part of popular culture and slipping into some degree of obscurity among many of the multitude of cultural elites in our global world, were seen traditionally, at least in the west and among its cultural literati, as a source of artistic and creative inspiration. Calliope was the mother of Orpheus who was known to have a keen understanding of both music and poetry. We know little about Calliope, as we know little about the inspiration of the Muses, at least in the Greek tradition. In the young and developing artistic tradition and its many sources of creative expression among adherents of the Baha’i Faith, on the other hand, although gods and goddesses play no role, holy souls “who have remained faithful unto the covenant of God” can be a leaven that leavens “the world of being” and furnishes “the power through which the arts and 25
  26. 26. wonders of the world are made manifest.” In addition, among a host of other inspirational sources, the simple expression ‘Ya’Baha’ul’Abha’ brings “the Supreme Concourse to the door of life” and “opens the heavens of mysteries, colours and riddles of life.” Much more could be said about inspiration from a Baha’i perspective, but this is sufficient for now in this brief description of the origins and purpose of this my poetic oeuvre. Mary Gibson emphasizes in her study of Ezra Pound’s epic entitled Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians that one question was at the centre of The Cantos. It was the "question of how beauty and power, passion and order can cohere." This question was one of many that concerned Pound in the same years that Bahai Administration, the precursor of a future World Order, was coming to assume its earliest form in the last years of the second decade of the 20th century and the early years of the third, a form that was slowly coming to manifest those qualities Pound strove in vain to find in a modern politico-philosophy. The wider world did not yet see these qualities in the as yet early phases of the development of this new System. But in my mind and heart, and certainly in my poetry, I found these qualities and gave them expression. I do not address an unusually cultivated class as Pound did leaving most readers feeling they were faced with a terminus of incoherent 26
  27. 27. arrogance; nor is my work a game as Pound’s Cantos appeared to be to many readers with its absence of direction, but like Pound my work was that of a voyageur who was not sure where his work would end up. My work has been, like Pound’s, thrown up on a shore that I certainly had not planned to visit. Unlike Pound I do not yet have many enthusiasts or detractors of my work. And I may never have. Unlike Pound, my work, my epic, does not possess a disordered, indeed, chaotic structure and is not filled with unfathomable historical allusions; nor do I see my work as dull and verbose, although others may. If Pound’s was a “plotless epic with flux” mine has both plot and flux, but the accretion of detail and the piling up of memory on memory may, in the end, lose most readers. For now, I must live with this possibility. There is no Christian myth to guide the reader through Pound’s epic, as there was through Dante’s Commedia six centuries before. Pound’s Cantos tell the story of the education of Ezra Pound as my epic tells the story of my education. In my case there is a guide, the Baha’i metaphorical interpretation of physical reality or, to put it simply, the Baha’i myth. At the heart, the centre, of my own epic, then, is a sense of visionary certitude, derived from my belief in this embryonic World Order of Baha’u’llah, that a cultural and 27
  28. 28. political coherence will increase in the coming decades and centuries around the sinews of this efflorescing Order. My work is serious but not solemn and, like Eliot, I am not sure of the permanent value of what I have written. As Eliot put it: “I may have wasted my time and messed up my life for nothing.” No man knoweth what his own end shall be, nor what the end of his writing shall be either, I hasten to add. The poet Wallace Stevens’ expressed his sense of the epic “as a poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice. ” What Stevens says here certainly gives expression to what is involved in this process, this sense of epic, for me. I am involved in the act of creating a prose-poem of the mind and trying to find out as I go along “what will suffice” to express what is in my mind and my heart, what is part and parcel of my beliefs and what occupies the knowledge base of the Baha’i Faith. This process is, without doubt, at the centre of this conceptual, this epistemological, this ontological, experiment of mine. This epic is an experimental vehicle containing open- ended autobiographical sequences. It is a sometimes softly, indirectly didactic, sometimes not-so-softly and quite directly didactic, intellectual exploration with lines developing with apparent spontaneity and going in many directions. The overall shape of this work was in no way 28
  29. 29. predetermined. In many respects, both my long poem, the thousands of shorter poems and, indeed, all my writing is purely amateur and speculative philosophy, literary playfulness and autobiographical description that I try to integrate into Baha’i and secular history in a great many ways. I feel I can make the claim that this work belongs to Australian history, at least part of it and I hope that the words of Mark Twain can apply to my work. “Australian history,” Twain wrote, “is almost always picturesque; indeed, it is also so curious and strange, that it is itself the chief novelty the country has to offer and so it pushes the other novelties into second and third place. It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies; and all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises and adventures, the incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.”8 I don’t like to see this work of mine associated with lies, but if there are any lies here perhaps if they are beautiful ones I suppose that’s an improvement over all the ugly ones I’ve heard in my life. I attempt as I go along to affirm a wholeness within this epic design, a 8 Mark Twain, More Tramps Abroad, London, 1897. 29
  30. 30. design which I like to see and refer to as a noetic integrator: a conceptual construction which serves to interpret large fields of reality and to transform experience and knowledge into attitude and belief. I have slowly developed this construction, this design, this tool and it is a product of decades of extensive and intensive effort to articulate a conceptual construction to deal with the long, complex and fragmented world in which I have lived my life and where a tempest seems to have been blowing across its several continents and its billions of inhabitants with an incredible force for decades, for over a century. I would hope that this construction, this epic design, will be of use to others. I would like to think that it will help others translate their potentiality into actuality--a process that Alfred North Whitehead called concrescence. But I have no idea. (See: D. Jordan and D. Streets, "The Anisa Model," Young Children, vol.28, No.5, June 1973.) I trust, too, that this epic work is not only a sanctimonious, openly pious, exploration of literary, practical and life-narrative themes but simultaneously a self-questioning of these themes and forms, actions and motivations. What I write should not be seen as fixed and final, but a lifelong attempt to polish and not pontificate, to guard against blind and idle imitation as well as against narrowness, rigidity and intolerance--tendencies toward fundamentalist habits of mind--in my own spiritual path. 30
  31. 31. Pound was intent on developing an “ideal polity of the mind”. This polity flooded his consciousness and suggested a menacing fluidity, an indiscriminate massiveness of the crowd. The polity that is imbeded in my own epic does not suggest the crowd, probably because the polity I have been working with over my lifetime has been one that has grown so slowly and the groups I have worked in and with have been small. At the same time I have become more and more impressed, as my experience of the Bahai polity has become more seasoned, more mature, with what is for me "an ideal polity." It has come to "flood my consciousness" over the years and I could expatiate on its System and how it deals with the essential weaknesses of politics pointed out so long ago by Plato and Aristotle and which continue to this day. But that is not the purpose of this memoir. This vision and this Movement, my role and my contribution, though, has not been so much to give people answers but, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani writes, to help pose, to stimulate the asking of, the right questions. People seem so very skeptical of answers and so playing the devil's advocate, so to speak, has seemed to me to have more mileage in the process of dialogue. (The Promoter of the Faith or Devil's Advocate was a position established in 31
  32. 32. the Roman Catholic Church in 1587 to argue against the canonization of a candidate) I have dealt with my most rooted assumptions and questioned my most secret and instinctive self and many of the assumptions of my secular society. In the process, I hope this exercise has led to an openness of mind, a humility of response that finds resolutions as much or more than solutions and that it carries the seeds of other questions. There is an interdependence of diverse points of view rather than some total vision here. There is, too, what Nakhjavani calls, "a Bahai aesthetic" which is a form of seeing that enables us to use our creative endeavours to reflect the motions in the heart, motions of search, striving, desire, devotion and love. My style, my prose-poetic design, though, is like Pound’s insofar as I use juxtaposition as a way to locate and enhance meanings. Like Pound, I stress continuity in history, the cultural and the personal. At the heart of epic poetry for Pound was “the historical.” It was part of the reclaiming job that Modernist poets saw as their task, to regain ground from the novelists; my reclaiming job is to tell of the history of the epochs I have lived through from a personal perspective, from the perspective of the multitude of traces both I and my coreligionists have left behind. In some ways these events don’t need reclaiming for the major and minor events of our time both 32
  33. 33. within and without the Baha’i community are massively documented in more detail than ever before in history. Perhaps, though, in the same way that Pound’s work was, as Alan Ginsberg once put it, “the first articulate record and graph of the mind and emotions over a continuous fifty year period,” my epic may provide a similar record and graph. But unlike Pound I see new and revolutionary change in both the historical process, in my own world and in the future with a distant vision of the oneness of humanity growing in the womb of this travailing age. I see humankind on a spiritual journey, the stages of which are marked by the advent of the Manifestations of God. Those who are quite familiar with the poem Leaves of Grass may recall that Walt Whitman’s poetic work often merges both himself and his poetry with the reader. In the same way that Pound’s work provides a useful comparison and contrast point for me in describing and analysing my epic, so is this true of Walt Whitman’s poem. His poem expresses his theory of democracy. His poem is the embodiment of the idea that a single unique protagonist can represent a whole epoch. This protagonist can be looked at in two ways. There is his civic, public, side and his private, intimate side. While I feel it would be presumptuous of me to claim, or even attempt, to represent an 33
  34. 34. entire epoch or age, this concept of a private/public dichotomy is a useful one, a handy underlying feature or idea at the base of this epic poem. I also like to think that, as I have indicated above, this experience, this poetry, this epic work, is part and parcel of the experience of many of my coreligionists around the world even though my work has an obvious focus on my own experience. Paradoxically, it is the personal which makes the common insofar as it recognizes the existence of the many in the one. In my own joy or despair, I am brought to that which others have also experienced. In my poetic opus, my epic, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, I like to think, that with Whitman, the reader can sense a merging of reader and writer. But I like to think, too, that readers can also sense in my epic a political philosophy, a sociology, a psychology, a global citizen--something we have all become. There is in my poetry a public and a private man reacting to the burgeoning planetization of humankind, the knowledge explosion and the tempest that has been history’s experience, at least as far back as the 1840s, if not the days of Shaykh Ahmad after he left his homeland in the decade before those halcyon, if bloody, years of the French Revolution. But there is much more than verse-making here. I have no hesitation in 34
  35. 35. making what Donald Kuspit calls identitarian claims for my poetry. My writing, my poetry, contains within in, page after page, an expression of, an identity with, what has been and is the ruling passion of my life: the Baha’i Faith, its history and teachings. They seem to have wrapped and filled my being over my pioneering life over these last 45 years. Indeed, I have seen myself with an increasing consciousness, as a part, one of the multitude of lights in what ‘Abdu’l-Baha called a “heavenly illumination” which would flow to all the peoples of the world from the North American Baha’i community and which would, as Shoghi Effendi expressed it “adorn the pages of history.” My story is part of that larger story, the first stirrings of a spiritual revolution, which at the local level has often, has usually, indeed, just about always, seemed unobtrusive and uneventful, at least where I have lived and pioneered. There is a narrative imagination, too, that is at the base of this epic poetry. As far as possible I have tried to make this narrative honest, true, accurate, realistic, informed, intelligible, knowledgeable, part of a new collective story, a new shared reality, part of the axis of the oneness of humanity that is part of the central ethos of the Baha’i community. As I develop my story through the grid of narrative and poetry, of letters and essays, of notebooks 35
  36. 36. and photographs, I tell my story the way I see it, through my own eyes and my own knowledge, as Baha’u’llah exhorted me in Hidden Words, but with the help of many others. I leave behind me traces, things in your present, dear reader, which stand for now absent things, things from the past, from a turning point in history, one of history’s great climacterics. The phenomenon of the trace is clearly akin to the inscription of lived time, my time and that of my generation, upon astronomical time from which calendar time comes. History is “knowledge by traces”, as F. Simiand puts it. And so, I bequeath traces: mine, those of many others I have known, those of a particular time in history. In the years since this sense of my total oeuvre as epic was first formulated, that is since the period 1997 to 2000, I have been working on the 2nd to 6th editions of my prose narrative Pioneering Over Four Epochs. In these last eight years, September 2000 to August 2008, this narrative has come to assume its own epic proportions. It is now 2600 pages in length and occupies five volumes. It is one of the many extensions, one of the many facets, parts and parcels, of the epic that I have described above and which had its initial formulation form from September 1997 to September 2000. After a dozen years, then, from 1997 to 2009, my epic has extended my 36
  37. 37. world of prose memoir, of narrative autobiography, of meditation. I also completed in that same period a 400 page study of the poetry of Roger White which was placed on the Juxta Publications website in October 2003. It was entitled: The Emergence of a Baha’i Consciousness in World Literature: The Poetry of Roger White. The first edition of my website in 1997, also entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs, became a second edition on May 21st 2001 two days before the official opening of The Terraces on Mt.Carmel on 23 May 2001. My website, then, is now ten years old. This website contains some 3000 pages and is, for me, an integral part of this epic. There are so many passions, thoughts, indeed so much of one’s inner life that cannot find expression in normal everyday existence. Much of my poetry and prose, perhaps my entire epic-opus is a result of this reality, at least in part; my literary output is also a search for words to describe the experience, my experience, of our age, my age. This is part of what might be called the psycho-biological basis of my work. My poetry and prose allows me to release surplus, excess, energy and an abundance of thought and desire which I am unable to assimilate and give expression to in my everydayness and its quotidian features. This entire work is an expression of 37
  38. 38. thoughts, desires, passions, beliefs and attitudes which I am unable to find a place for amidst the ordinary. This literary epic adorns the ordinary; it enriches my everyday experience, as if from a distance. I have come to see and feel my literary efforts as if they were a breeze en passant over my multifaceted religious faith, over my daily life. I do not write to convince or proselytise, but as a form of affirmation of all that has meaning and significance in life, my life and, by implication and since all humans share so much in common, Everyman's. I write of that foul rag and bone shop, as the poet W.B. Yeats called the heart, and of that golden seam of joy in life, of frailty and strength and of the abyss of mental anguish and a heart exulting unaggrieved. These aspects of my writing are all part of that trace I alluded to above. An additional part of this epic is an epistolary narrative written over fifty years, 1957/8 to 2007/8. This epistolary work is driven by this same belief system acquired, refined and thought about over a lifetime, a belief system which finds a core of facticity and a periphery of interpretation, imagination, intuition, sensory activity and an everyday analysis of its history and teachings in the context of these letters. The inclusion of this collection of letters and more recently emails and internet posts in its many sub-categories 38
  39. 39. is part of my effort to compensate for the tendency of my fellow Baha’is throughout the history of this Faith not to leave an account of their lives, their times, their experiences, as Moojan Momen has made so clear in his The Babi-Baha’i Religions: 1844-1944. I did not start out with this motivation, nor did I think of my epistolary work as I went along as a sort of compensation for the strong tendency of my fellow believers not to record their experiences in letters but, after half a century of this form of collected communications, I realized that they offered an expression of my times and of the Bahai community during these epochs that may be of use to future historians, biographers and a variety of other social analysts. This view I have come to gradually in a retrospective sense. This epistolary narrative is yet one more attempt, along with the other several genres by this writer, to provide a prose-poetry mix of sensory and intellectual impressions to try to capture the texture of a life, however ineffably rich and temporarily fleeting, in one massive opus, one epic form, with branches leading down such prolix avenues that its total form is most probably only of use as an archive and not as something to be read by this generation. 39
  40. 40. At the present time there are some 50 volumes of letters, emails and internet posts under ten major divisions of my epistolary collection. The third division of the ten contains my contacts with sites on the internet and there are some 25 volumes of site contacts at: site homepages, forums, discussion boards and blogs with their postings and replies, inter alia. This collection of posts on the internet, posts largely made since 2001 and the official opening of the Arc Project in May 2001, is now a part of this massive, this burgeoning epic. I have written an introduction to this collection of letters, inter alia--and that introduction is found at Baha’i Library Online> Secondary Source Material> Personal Letters. The other genres of my writing: the character sketches, the notebooks and the five volume journal, the dozen attempts at a novel as well as the photographic embellishments and memorabilia within this epic framework I leave for now without comment--although readers will find ample comment at later points in this epic-opus. After more than a decade since the initial concept of this epic was first initiated, I feel I have made a start to what may become an even longer epic account as my life heads into late adulthood and old age and the Faith I have 40
  41. 41. been and am a part of soon heads into the second century of its Formative Age. This aspect of epic, this perception of my oeuvre as epic, the incorporation of all my writing into a collected unity in multiplicity, a memoir in many genres, necessitates the initiation of this sixth edition. After finalizing the fifth edition a year ago, an edition which went through more drafts than I care to count, I bring out this third draft of the sixth edition of this work. 16 August 2008 PREFACE TO THE FIFTH EDITION Life writing is now one of the most dynamic and rapidly developing fields of international scholarship. Life writing is a catch-all term developed to encompass several genres: autobiography, biography, memoir, journal, diary, letter and other forms of self-construction. During my pioneering life(1962-2007) and especially since I have been writing this memoir(1984- 2007) or what I sometimes refer to as my autobiography, this dynamism and intensive development has been particularly prominent. The field also includes these several genres of life-narrative I mentioned above within 41
  42. 42. various disciplines of the social sciences and humanities: history, anthropology, sociology, politics, leadership and leisure studies, narrative and literary studies, among others. I make use of all these genres in my memoir, but only a small portion of any one of them are found in what has become quite an extensive work. Life writing addresses and gives voice to many social constituencies including: women, men, indigenous groups, postcolonial societies, ethnic groups and a wide variety of society’s sub-groups like new religious movements. The sub-group I am concerned with in my work is the Baha’i community. This community is part of my focus. Life writing, among its many purposes, gives voice to those who suffer illness, oppression, misfortune and tragedy. It is also an enabling structure, tool or mechanism for those who wish to speak in a spirit of affirmation, inquiry, amazement or celebration among other emotional and intellectual raison d’etres or modi vivendi. My voice, my spirit, finds its enabling structure, its raison d’etre, in this lengthy work. In addition to its high, its increasing, academic profile, life writing generates great interest among the general public. Works of biography and 42
  43. 43. autobiography sell in vast numbers; millions now work in or are part of large organisations; millions follow the endless political and economic analyses that are generated by the media daily. People in these groups are interested in the literature by or about the leaders and the special people associated with their group and organizational affiliations. Many aficionados of entertainment and sport read books by or about the celebrity figures in these fields. There is also a wide readership for books that deal with life in various cultures and cultural groups; an increasing number of people are interested in writing family histories or their own autobiographies. And on and on goes the litany of enthusiasm and human interests. Studies in biography and autobiography are burgeoning and blossoming at universities all over the world. Each institution in their own way aims to reflect and to facilitate their special component of the interests referred to above and to make their schools nationally and internationally recognised centres of excellence for integrated activities in the field. And so, in writings my memoirs, I feel I have lots of company. For those with a philosophical bent, studies in biography and autobiography tap into some of the most profound and interesting intellectual issues of our 43
  44. 44. time and previous times; for example, are we the products of nature, nurture or a combination of both? When we come to write the story of a life, be it our own or someone else's, what kinds of plot structures does our culture provide for telling the truest story we can? When do we need to invent our own plot structures, and to what extent is this possible? How true can stories about people be, and how do we know whether they are true or not? Is it possible to be objective about one's own self, or about another human being? What are the limits of confidentiality when putting a life on public record? How, and in what ways, does the experience of having a self, of being a person, differ from one culture to another? Is there any value in leaving behind a voluminous anatomy of self, Such questions, and others like them, reach into central issues of recent literary and cultural theory. Issues pertaining to subjectivity, the social construction of the self, agency, identity, the structures of the psyche, and so on, are all part of this vast territory. The four books, in volumes one to five, that make up this memoir or autobiography are part of this burgeoning, this dynamic, field. The first hard copy of the fifth edition of this work was made in April 2004. This hard copy, the first in the public domain, as far as I know, was made by 44
  45. 45. Bonnie J. Ellis, the Acquisitions Librarian, for the Baha’i World Centre Library. The work then had 803 pages. The first paperback edition available from a publisher was at the internet site of lulu.com in June 2006, although it was not yet available to the public requiring, as it did, the review by the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia Inc. Anyone wanting to obtain a paperback copy will, I trust, soon be able to order it from lulu.com. This fifth edition is the base from which additions, deletions and corrections are still being made in the flexible world that publishing has become. The latest changes to that edition were made on September 1st 2007 in my 64th year, a little more than a quarter of the way into the Baha’i community’s new Five Year Plan, 2006-2011. This fifth edition now comes to some 2600 pages at the lulu.com site where I have organized the material into four paperback volumes. An 1800 page, abridged version of this fifth edition is available at eBookMall for $2.98. It is my present intention to make, through my literary executors and after my passing an additional chapter, a chapter that I prefer to keep ‘under wraps’ during my life on this mortal coil. Such a number of pages with over 2000 references is enough to turn off any but the most zealous readers. Readers of editions on the internet or in one of several libraries may come across one or 45
  46. 46. part of previous editions. I frequently make changes to the content and I have been placing editions or parts thereof on the internet and in libraries on the internet for the last four years. The ease and flexibility of internet access makes publishing on the world wide web a delight for a person like me whose writing is not associated with remuneration, gaining the support and backing of a publisher or paying someone to promote my work, a common internet practice. When I first completed this fifth edition in May 2004 I assumed it would be the last edition; even with additions, deletions and alterations I thought I had an edition which would see me out to the end of my days. This has proved not to be the case; this edition will not be the final one of this autobiographical work, a work which, as I indicate from time to time, may more aptly be called a memoir in keeping with recent trends in terms and nomenclature. A memoir is slightly different from an autobiography. Traditionally, a memoir focuses on the "life and times" of the writer and often a special part of a life, a special occasion or theme in a life; it is less structured and less chronologically precise than an autobiography. An autobiography has a narrower, more intimate focus on the memories, feelings and emotions of the writer and, as the historical novelist Gore Vidal 46
  47. 47. suggests, is essentially history, with research and facts to back up the statements. It tends to deal with the whole of life. Perhaps my work is essentially a hybrid: both autobiography and memoir. The Baha’i Academic Resources Library, the State Library of Tasmania and the National Library of Canada among other internet sites, all have variations of this edition. At this stage in the evolution of these volumes I could benefit from the assistance of one, Rob Cowley, affectionately known in publishing circles back in the seventies and early eighties --as “the Boston slasher.” Guy Murchie regarded his work as “constructive and deeply sensitive editing.”9 If he could amputate several hundred pages of my work or even a thousand or more with minimal agony to my emotional equipment I’m sure readers would be the beneficiaries. But alas, I think Bob is dead and I have found an editor, a copy and proofreader who does not slash and burn but leaves one's soul quite intact as he wades through my labyrinthine chapters and pages, smooths it all out and excises undesirable elements.10 9 Guy Murchie, The Seven Mysteries of Life, Houghton Mifflin Co., Bonston, 1978, p.viii. 10 In 2003 Bill Washington and in 2005, a ‘selene yue’ each did some editing work on parts of the 3rd and 5th editions, respectively. Others, too, sent me comments and feedback on parts of my manuscript. In November 2006 Bill began again his work on this memoir which had grown in the meantime from eight hundred to twenty-five hundred pages and his work was part of the formal system of review under the auspices of the National 47
  48. 48. John Kenneth Galbraith also had some helpful comments for writers like myself. Galbraith’s first editor Henry Luce, the founder of Time Magazine, was an ace at helping a writer avoid excess. Galbraith saw this capacity to be succinct as a basic part of good writing. Galbraith also emphasized the music of the words and the need to go through many drafts. I've always admired Galbraith, a man who has only recently passed away. I’ve followed his advice on the need to go through endless drafts. I’ve lost count, but I’m not sure if, in the process, I have avoided excess. I can hear readers say: “are you kidding?” In some ways I have found that the more drafts I do, the more I had to say. And excess, is one of the qualities of my life, if I may begin the confessional aspect of this work in a minor key. And so I have Galbraith watching over my shoulder and his mentor, Henry Luce, as well. Galbraith spent his last years in a nursing home before he passed away in 2006 at the age of 98. Perhaps his spirit will live on in my writing as an expression of my appreciation for his work, if nothing else. Spontaneity did begin to come into my work at perhaps my sixth or seventh draft of this fifth edition. Galbraith says that artificiality enters the text Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia, Inc. 48
  49. 49. because of this. I think he is right; part of this artificiality is the same as that which one senses in life itself. Galbraith also observed with considerable accuracy, in discussing the role of a columnist, that such a man or woman is obliged by the nature of their trade to find significance three times a week in events of absolutely no consequence. I trust that the nature of my work here, my memoir, will not result in my being obliged to find significance where there is none. I’m not optimistic. Perhaps I should simply say “no comment” and avoid the inevitable gassy emissions that are part of the world of memoirs. The capacity to entertain and be clever may not occupy such an important place in the literary landscape in the centuries ahead. But this is hard to say. There is something wrong it seems to me if millions have what the famous American critic Gore Vidal says is part of the nightly experience of western man: the pumping of laughing gas into lounge rooms. While this pumping takes place millions, nay billions, now and over the recent four epochs about which this account is written, starve, are malnourished and are traumatized in a multitude of ways. The backdrop to this memoir is bewilderingly complex. Still, I like to think readers will find here a song of intellectual gladness and, if not a song, then at least a few brief melodies. I would also 49
  50. 50. like it if this work possessed an unwearying tribute to the muse of comedy that instils the life and work of writers like, say, Clive James and many another writer with the flare for humour. Alas, that talent is not mine to place before readers, at least I am not conscious of its presence. Readers will be lucky to get a modicum of laughs, as I’ve said, in the 2600 pages that are here. I avoid humour, although not consciously, except for the occasional piece of irony, play with words or gentle sarcasm that some call the lowest form of wit. Not making use of the lighter side of life, not laughing at oneself and others in a country like Australia is perhaps an unwise policy. I do this a great deal in my daily life but readers won’t find much to laugh at here.11 They will find irony in mild amounts and even enough of that Benthamite psychology of the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain to satisfy the value-systems of readers, at least in Australia.12 I came to write this edition of my autobiography, or memoirs as I say above, after living for more than 11 J.K. Galbraith in Harry Kreisler, Conversations With History: Intellectual Journey--Challenging the Conventional Wisdom, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1996, 12 Ronald Conway in The Great Australian Stupor, Sun Books, 1971, p.17 points to this as “the highest value” and “the most vital of stratagems.” This was how Conway saw it and expressed it in his book in 1971, the year I arrived in Australia. 50
  51. 51. three decades in Australia. Part of this book unavoidably analyses the things, the culture, around me. In some ways I don’t mind the relative dearth of humour in this work because, if Gore Vidal was right in a recent interview when he said with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek where he often places it to the pleasure and amusement, the annoyance and frustration of many a listener--and laughing gas is, indeed, pumped into most homes every night as society amuses itself to death,13 then, to avoid this paradox, this ambiguity, this complexity at the heart of our world, my world, could be said to deny the pain that is at the very heart of our existence in this age. To gainsay such pain is, for some, a central crime of the bourgeois part of our society. For me, the issues and offences, the challenges and struggles in relation to this polarity-paradox, this conundrum, are exceedingly complex and I only deal with them indirectly in this somewhat personal statement, however long it may be. 13 Gore Vidal, “Interview with Bob Carr: Foreign Correspondent,” ABC TV, 9:45-10:05 p.m., February 21st , 2006 and Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Penguin, 1986. 51
  52. 52. If readers miss the lighter, the more humorous, touch here, they may also miss the succinctness that they find in their local paper, a doco on TV or the pervasive advertising medium that drenches us all in its brevity and sometimes clever play on words and images. One thing this book is not is succinct and I apologize to readers before they get going if, indeed, dear readers, you get going at all with this work. I like to think, though, that readers will find here two sorts of good narrative, the kind that moves by its macroscopic energy and the kind that moves by its microscopic clarity. I won’t promise this to readers here at the outset in this preface, but such is my hope—springing eternally as hope does in the font of life. I have grown fonder of life in late middle age and the early years of late adulthood after years of having to suffer ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ As far as laughs are concerned, I have made much ‘ha ha,’ as Voltaire called it, in the public domain in these last six decades, especially since coming to Australia in 1971, 36 years ago. A goodly portion of my life has been light and cheery and I’m confident, with Gore Vidal, that it will stay this way, barring calamity or trauma, until my last breath. I hope some readers will enjoy this narrative in all its excess, its voluminosity and its serious note and tone. In one of John Steinbeck’s 52
  53. 53. letters he wrote: “Anyone who says he doesn’t like a pat on the back is either untruthful or a fool.”14 Perhaps Steinbeck never met many of the Aussies I’ve known who don’t like pats on their back or anywhere else, are suspicious of those who give them and are certainly not fools. But I am, alas, not a full-blood Aussie; I am at best a hybrid and I look forward to many pats on the back. Australians have taught me not to be too optimistic, too dependent, too attached to such pats; perhaps, though, it is simply life, my experience and my own particular brand of skepticism that has taught me this. Scratching backs—now that is a different question! Gertrude Stein’s autobiography was published when she was 54 and it led to the beginning of her popularity after more than 20 years of trying to publish her writing, unsuccessfully. The reason for her autobiography’s success, she once said, was that she made it so simple anyone could understand it. Perhaps I should have done the same and removed anything obscure or complex. Sadly, for those who like to ‘keep it simple stupid,’ as one of the more popular lines in business English courses emphasizes, they may find this work a bit of drudgery, far more that they want to be bothered to bite off. Stein marketed her book in several important ways, ways to which I do 14 John Steinbeck, “Letter March 14th 1963,” in Steinbeck Studies , Volume 15, Number 1, Spring 2004. 53
  54. 54. not resort. I have done my marketing of this book, just about entirely on the Internet. I’ve marketed it as autobiography, as memoir and on the internet in more ways than it is useful to recount here. Memoir has recently become a fashionable term, just in the last decade, but I still tend more often to use the term autobiography. I have used this term increasingly since I started this writing in 1984. I have left much out of this autobiography. That energetic President of the USA, Theodore Roosvelt, said in the opening line of his autobiography, “there are chapters of my autobiography which cannot now be written.”15 I, too, have left much out. I would like to think that this book requires more exposition than criticism, more reflection than editing. To put it more precisely, I would like to think that as readers go through these pages in five volumes they may apply their critical faculty as a connoisseur might do. Readers would be advised to employ that critical faculty to discern what is distinctive and enduring here. That is what I would like to think but I am confident that, should this lengthy work attain any degree of popularity, it will also receive its share of criticism. For many this work will not have what is an essential of popular writing: that it be written entertainingly, 15 Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography, 1913. 54
  55. 55. breezily, and full of snappy phrases. I trust this work does possess, though, that happy mix of copiousness and restraint, depth and lightness. When this narrative breathes out, the world is many; when it breathes in again, the world is one. When this narrative looks back in time it might be called retrospective or narratology and when it looks forward futurology. Time itself is only significant in terms of some relation; severed from relation it becomes merely a semantic term or construct. Whatever this work lacks in the way of potential popularity it does aim “to unite the greatest possible number of people.”16 The oneness of humankind is, for me, more than a theoretical notion. Albert Camus in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in 1957 said that uniting people was or should be the aim of the writer. The Baha’i community has been engaged in this task for more than a century and a half and as one of its members I have been similarly engaged for a little more than half a century. I often use books toward this goal. I see books as stories about human beings and, although books are not life, it is life they are about. I got a surge of warmth and delight putting this life together and, if I knew a monk, I would get him to 16 Albert Camus, Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1957. 55
  56. 56. illuminate it.17 As George Bernard Shaw used to say, “my first aim is to please myself and I can not always please my readers.” How true, how true. I am confident that the standard of public discussion and literary criticism will, as the decades and centuries go by, significantly, profoundly improve. I confidently leave this work in the hands of posterity and the mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence. Perchance editors and readers will be found down the roads of the future. The determining factors of fate and freedom leave much to be decided on those roads. I like to think that this autobiographical work may incline readers to re-examine their received ideas on the autobiographical genre. The inflated reputations that are a constant part of literary discourse in this field of literature need to be placed in a more balanced perspective. I hope the approach I have taken to this work is a step in the direction of that balance. May this work be used as a sort of scaffolding--a burgeoning product in the public place--for readers to work on the buildings that are their own lives. For I aspire, as the literary critic Rebecca West once put it, to artistry not just a simple amiability. I’d also like to intellectually challenge the reader not just provide a story to 17 Randall Jarrell makes this comment in “Hunger for Excellence, Awakening Hunger In His Readers,” Helen Vendler, The New York Times, January 4th 1970. 56
  57. 57. satisfy human curiosity. Our world in the West is drowning in stories and so I try to provide something beyond a simple tale with its exciting twists and turns, with its moral-to-the-story, its romance and surprises. I am a tireless interpreter of themes, resources, books and people and I move from the micro to the macro world faster than a speeding bullet. This shifting about is not everybody’s cup-of-tea. Any pleasure this work provides, any influence it achieves, I like to think derives from my peculiar artistry and my blend of truth, studies of the humanities and social sciences and the combination of the colloquial and the academic. There is nothing wrong with having such lofty aims even if I do not achieve them. At the same time, I do not want to make extravagant promises that, in the end, disappoint. Readers will find here a conceptual density that can give both pleasure and instruction. Those who enjoy philosophical argument may enjoy this book more than those looking for a good yarn. In fact, I would advise those looking for a captivating story to look elsewhere. This work may well repel those who have a low tolerance for compact, complex ideas piled on one after another, but whether the reader enjoys or dislikes this work, as a study of the past and the present from a particular perspective, an autobiographical one, it is my way of understanding my world. I like to see my work partly 57
  58. 58. the way Mark Twain did his. As he wrote in the introductory lines of his autobiography: “my work has a form and method whereby the past and the present are constantly brought face to face, resulting in contrasts which newly fire up the interest all along, like contact of flint with steel.” His method, Twain went on, was a ‘systemless system’ that depended solely on what interested him at the time of writing. Such, too, is my aim and method, at least in part.18 It is easy I find to please myself when I write; the challenge and the greatest pleasure lies in writing for the pleasure of others. There is also a similarity in my writing to the works of various artists in the last century: Picasso's revolutionary paintings, T.S. Eliot's verse with its strange juxtapositions and odd perspectives, Igor Stravinsky’s music and its clashing sounds. Even if one accepts these similarities, readers may find that their natural reaction to this work is to want to throw it into the dustbin of autobiographical history. I would anticipate this response given the conventional, the natural, reaction to literary works of this type on the part of many a student I have taught and got to know over the years. The desire for an orderly impulse, a simple, an exciting, narrative sequence may produce in such readers an initial discomfort due to their perception of what 18 Methodology, defined in its widest sense, is the means by which knowledge is produced, accumulated and classified. 58
  59. 59. they see as my disorder and complexity and the sheer length of this work. In this autobiography, as Henry James once put it, “nothing is my last word on anything.”19 This disorder, this complexity, therefore, could continue for such readers almost indefinitely, at least theoretically. " These were, as Charles Dickens once said, "the best of times and the worst of times."20 In my more than thirty years of teaching I came across hundreds of students whom I know would take little to no delight in an analysis of these times in a form like the one found here. The most recent additions and alterations to this fifth edition were made on September 1st 2007, the first day of spring in Australia. This was more than four years and four months after the third edition of this work was sent to Haifa and since that edition was first made public in eBook form at eBookMall. It had been more than six years since the second edition of my website was first made public with extensive autobiographical material on it. A third edition of my website with a more user-friendly style and content is planned. The designers refer to it as a new-look, twenty-first century edition, but it has yet to see the light of day. I have had a website for ten years and 19 Henry James quoted by Susan Sontag, “Exhibit A With Julie Copeland,” ABC Radio, 8:30-9:00 p.m., January 9th 2006. 20 Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. 59
  60. 60. what readers will find in my new site is a piece of writing, an autobiography, in a much more readable format: such is my aim. As I was making a recent addition to this autobiographical work, I came across the words of Paul Johnson. "Balanced, well-adjusted, stable and secure people,” he wrote, “do not, on the whole, make good writers or good journalists. To illustrate the point, you have only to think of a few of those who have been both good writers and good journalists: Swift, Samuel Johnson, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Dickens, Marx, Hemingway, Camus, Waugh and Mark Twain--just to begin with."21 All these men had great personal struggles, instabilities and battles that, arguably, helped to give their writing the quality it possessed. I’m not sure if I deserve to be ranked with this group of famous men, however much I might like the idea. But neither am I sure if I could describe myself as balanced, well-adjusted, stable and secure. I leave both of these evaluations to my readers, most of whom will never know me personally. Future biographers, too, should there ever be any, may well find their path in writing a more detached view of my life one of perplexity. But 21 Paul Johnson, The Spectator, vol.24, No.3, 1990. 60
  61. 61. whatever their answers to the biographical enigmas that arise in their work, it is my hope that they enjoy the process of trying to resolve the questions. All they will have from me are words on paper, all that any writer leaves behind. And, as I get older, there is coming to be so much of it, words, paper and cyberspace that is. This work is partly an account of my stabilities and instabilities, balances and imbalances. As poet, writer and autobiographer, I have gone into myself. The tale here is significantly an inner one. It is not a lonely region, but a place where I often find fresh vigour and nourish my disposition to repose. I also have a certain preoccupation with personal relationships, intensity, bi-polar illness and movement from place to place, living as I have in over two dozen towns from Baffin Island to Tasmania. It’s all part of my particular expression of a process which Baha’is call pioneering and which readers will get much exposure to in this narrative. If the feedback I have received since the last edition to this work was completed over three years ago is anything to go on, feedback for the most part I received in relation to the first few pages of this work that I posted at a number of internet writing sites, the average reader, as I say above, is 61
  62. 62. looking for a good story and is not prepared to wade through my analysis, commentary and social scientific and literary-philosophical perspectives gleaned from a variety of disciplines in the humanities. The feedback I have received has praised my work to a high degree and it has also been critical of everything from my style and content to my choice of vocabulary and my very attitude. C’est la vie. “Such is life,” as Ned Kelly is reported to have said on his way to the gallows in 1880 after a life of notoriety—and now posthumous fame in Australia. I may, one day, write a more narrative, story-oriented, book to entice readers with excitements, romance and adventure. But, for now, I leave readers with this my life as I want to write it. This book may be more epitaph than autobiography. If so, I will need a whole cemetery of tombstones. Ron Price 1 September 2007 PREFACE TO THE FOURTH EDITION After completing the third edition of this work on July 9th 2003, in commemoration of the 153rd anniversary of the martyrdom of the Bab, I 62
  63. 63. continued to polish and to alter its basic structure and format. By the celebration of the anniversary of the Birth of Baha'u'llah on November 12th 2003 it seemed timely to bring out this fourth edition, due to the many changes I had made. The second edition had been essentially the same as the first which I had completed ten years before in 1993, although I added a series of appendices and notebooks which contained a substantial body of resources that I could draw on that had become available on the autobiographical process and on life-writing as well as the social sciences and humanities on the various themes I wanted to pursue in my work. And I did just that in writing the third edition. In 2003 I wrote what was essentially a new autobiography of over 700 pages with over 1300 footnotes. In this fourth edition of some 350,000 words I have divided the text into five volumes that are now found online at several journal/diary sites and some Baha’i sites.22 The Baha'i Academics Resource Library located on the Internet at bahai-library.com has the fullest version. It has taken me nearly twenty years to satisfy my autobiographical and literary self after years of finding my autobiographical writing somewhat dreary. I’d like to think I offer some enlightenment in these pages after 20 22 This autobiography is now located at Bahaindex.com highlighted this autobiography at its news site on November 4th 2003-among other sites. 63
  64. 64. years of practice. But to attempt to enlighten anyone these days rings of a certain pretentiousness and so I make this last comment with some caution. I know that the artist Andy Warhol expressed the feelings of many people in these days of electronic media when he said that ‘words are for nerds.’23 I am not anticipating a great rush to this text. Words are a poor resource for capturing complexity, as Leonardo da Vinci once said, but they are our chief tools for such a capture. Beneath a meticulous drawing of a dissected heart, on one of the many pages of his dazzlingly precise anatomical drawings now in the royal collection at Windsor, Leonardo wrote: "O writer! What words can you find to describe the whole arrangement of the heart as perfectly as is done in this drawing? My advice is not to trouble yourself with words unless you are speaking to the blind."24 Of course a life is at least as complex as a heart and, in many ways, the artist can not make a drawing of a life. Hence the value of words. When a substantial, a sufficient, number of changes, additions and deletions have been made to this edition I'll bring out a fifth edition. This exercise 23 Andy Warhol in a review of Andy Warhol, Wayne Koestenbaum, Viking/Penguin Lives, NY, 2003. 24 Charles Nicholl, “ Breaking the Da Vinci Code,” The Guardian Unlimited, November 27, 2004. 64
  65. 65. will depend, of course, on being granted sufficient years before "the fixed hour" is upon me and it becomes my "turn to soar away into the invisible realm."25 Readers will find here augmentations of the third edition rather than revisions or corrections, in a very similar way to those that, Michel Montaigne, the first essayist in the western intellectual tradition, said he did with the editions of his Essays.26 Readers will also find in this work an application of what I call the Reverse Iceberg Principle: 10% cold hard facts on the surface and 90% analysis, interpretation, imagination.27 This edition represents a reconciliation of a certain zestful readiness of my imaginative life with the challenging demands of the world of teaching, parenting, marriage, Baha'i community activity and various social responsibilities. It is a reconciliation that could not have occurred, though, had the demands of job, community and family not been significantly cut back to a minimum. The swings in my bi-polar cycle and the practical 25 'Abdu'l-Baha, Memorials November 27, 2004.of the Faithful, NSA of the Baha'is of the United States, Wilmette, 1971, p.166. 26 Colin Burrow, "A Review of Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher by Anne Hartle," Guardian Unlimited Books, Nov. 2003. Montaigne wrote his essays between 1571 and 1592. 27 See Barbara Tuchman, “The Guns of August,” in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, December 5th 2004, for an explanation of the Iceberg Principle in which readers have to do the analysing and the author only presents the facts. 65
  66. 66. demands of life enervated and depleted whatever energies I could have poured into writing this autobiography for a long time. But after my retirement from the teaching profession nearly five years ago and after the final stage of the treatment of my bi-polar disorder during these same years, a whole new energy system unfolded, productive tensions between self- creation and communal participation, enabling me to put together these seven hundred pages in the course of one year. I feel a little like that towering literary giant of my time Doris Lessing who, in a recent interview, said: “all kinds of circumstances have kept me pretty tightly circumscribed. What I've done is write. I used to have a very great deal of energy, which, alas, seems to have leaked away out of my toes somewhere.”28 I certainly don’t have the energy I used to have when employed full-time, but God has granted a good deal to emerge from between my toes. Lessing also wrote in her 1994 work Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography--To 1949: “Telling the truth or not telling it, and how much, is a lesser problem than the one of shifting perspectives, for you see your life differently at different stages, like climbing a mountain while the landscape changes with every turn in the path. Had I written this when I was thirty, it 28 Doris Lessing in “An Interview With Doris Lessing,” Bookforum, Spring 2002. 66
  67. 67. would have been a pretty combative document. In my forties, a wail of despair and guilt: oh my God, how could I have done this or that? Now I look back at that child, that girl, that young woman, with a much more detached curiosity. Besides the landscape itself is a tricky thing. As you start to write at once the question begins to insist: Why do you remember this and not that? Why do you remember in every detail a whole week, more, of a long ago year, but then complete dark, a blank? How do you know that what you remember is more important than what you don't?”29 I hope I have not just built an autobiographical skyscraper to adorn the literary skyline. I hope that at least a few readers will take an elevator up to my many floors and check out some of the multitude of offices hidden away. After travelling up and up at the press of a button, readers will find some useful resources for their everyday lives, at least for the life of their minds. As one of the 'writingest pioneers,' I hope I provide some pleasurable moments to anyone brave enough to take on the 850 pages here. The kind of pleasure I am talking about is the fine delight that follows the fluid matrix of thought, as Gerard Manley Hopkins once put it. 29 Doris Lessing, Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography: To 1949, Flamingon, London, 1994, p.12. 67
  68. 68. I was able at last to satisfy the autobiographical impulse. And the impulse led me on many paths but only one direction--deeper.30 This book became, in a way, the crystallization of a way I wanted to write.31 Out of the privacy of my thought and writing I was able to make more and more and more of my life;32 it was a 'more' that was on the social dimension of life as my life had been hitherto for virtually all of my pioneering experience. My writing became a 'coaxing of a context'33 out of my experience and the history of my times and of my religion. An historical sense as a member of civilized society is what memory is to individual identity and there are so many catalysts to memory: places, people, ideas and the media among other catalysts. But even as the quantity of memories accumulates with the years I still have some of that feeling expressed by that eminent 20th century anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, namely, that “I never had, and still do not have, the perception of feeling my personal identity. I appear to myself 30 Bonnie Goldberg, Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer's Life, Putnam Books, 2004. 31 Alister Cooke expressed his radio braodcasts, beginning as they did early in the first Seven Year Plan, this same way. See: ABC Radio National, April 4th, 2004, 8:00-8:30 am. 32 Cleanth Brooks, "W.B. Yates as a Literary Critic," The Discipline of Criticism: Essays in Literary Theory, Interpretation and History, editor, P. Demetz, et al., pp.17-41. 33 A description by a journalist of the accomplishment of Alister Cooke over nearly 60 years. See: idem 68
  69. 69. as the place where something is going on, but there is no “I,” no “me.”34 Though I use these terms frequently in this autobiography there is certainly an enigmatic aspect to the sense of self. The result of the simple, the complex and the enigmatic is the edition you read here completed several months before my sixtieth. I offer this edition of my work in celebration of the birth of that Holy Tree35 near day-break 186 years ago this morning. I do not try to fix this autobiography into a single frame; I do not try to write my own story with a sense of closure and definitiveness. Nor do I write with a great emphasis on disclosure and confession; I do not try to 'jazz-it-up', make it more than it is. I'm not tempted to give it a glamour it does not possess but I do strive to find its meaning, the meaning in what is already there. My story is based on remembrance, memory and unavoidably, first-person reportage. There is so much that, with the years, calls forth a flood of valuable reminiscences. I have converted some of that which I have seen, thought, held, tasted and felt into thought, language, memory. These memories of times past are not pursued as a nostalgic end in themselves, although they are usually enjoyed, 34 Seth Huebner, “Virginia Woolf: O Thy Splendid Identity!” Janus Head, Winter 2005. 35 Baha'u'llah refers to His birth using the words "this Holy Tree." See David S. Ruhe, Robe of Light, George Ronald, Oxford, 1994, p.21. 69
  70. 70. but as an illumination of the present and a guide to the future.36 There is a seductive power in autobiographical writing that enables writers of this genre to manipulate, manage and revise their experience and, at the public level, synthesize and analyse public opinion.37 This power has always attracted writers. I’m not sure I like this idea but, in some ways, everything written has a certain spin. “A book is a thing among things, a volume lost among the volumes that populate the indifferent universe,” writes the Argentinian poet, Borges, “until it meets its reader, the person destined for its symbols. What then occurs is that singular emotion called beauty, that lovely mystery which neither psychology nor criticism can describe.''38 I would hope that at least some readers experience that thing called beauty here in this autobiography. There are an unlimited number of possible narratives that could be constructed as reporter on my life. What readers have here could be called 36 See William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey (1798) and Matthew Arnold’s The Terrace at Berne (1852), for similar experiences of other autobiographical poets. 37 Helga Lénárt-Cheng, “Autobiography As Advertisement: Why Do Gertrude Stein’s Sentences Get Under Our Skin?” New Literary History, Vol.34, No.1, Winter 2003. 38 Andrew Roe, “Borges' Epiphanies on Everything From Kafka to Citizen Kane,” A review of Jorge Luis Borges’, Selected Non-Fictions, editor Eliot Weinberger in The San Francisco Chronicle, 5 September 1999. 70
  71. 71. an interpretation, adaptation, abridgement, a retelling, a basic story among many possible basic stories.39 It is neither true nor false, but constructed.40 It has meaning because, as the poet Czeslaw Milosz writes, “it changes into memory.”41 The universal currency and assumed naturalness of narrative, though, may well suppress its problematic dimensions such as: parsimony, inclusion and suppression as shaping factors in the composition of narratives. There is some ordering of the incidences and intimacies of this specific, individual life into a narrative coherence giving readers some idea of what it was like to be me, some idea of what my inner, private, mental life was like. This private life is for the most part illegible; we live it and fight it alone. I have tried to make this inner life, as much as possible, as legible as possible. The sense of self which has emerged in the process of writing this work is two-fold. One is this private, mysterious, difficult to define self about whom it seems impossible to boast about. This self is an enigma, a mysterious who that I am, a transient entity, ceaselessly re-created for each and every 39 Barbara Herrnstein Smith, "Narrative Versions, Narrative Theories," Critical Inquiry, Autumn 1980. 40 Steven V. Hunsaker, Autobiography and National Identity in the Americas, Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1999, p. xvi. 41 Czeslaw Milosz in “The Memory of Czeslaw Milosz: 1911-2004,” Hilton Kramer, The New Criterion, October 2004. 71
  72. 72. object with which the brain interacts. Along with this transient entity, though, there is what seems like a second self, what one writer called an autobiographical self.42 It is this self which gives this autobiography some narrative flow; it is the self of everyday life, the surface existence. It is not trivial but is really quite important in a different way than that more enigmatic self. The everyday self, the one which wrote this fourth edition, possesses a memory which is the basis of thought, feeling, tradition, identity, and spirit. This act, this struggle, to remember and not to forget is also the basis for the achievement of a sense of continuity. Here in this continuity lies my individual and cultural identity. George Orwell’s warning that an erasure of the past is one of the conditions that allows a totalitarian régime to manipulate the future is a warning that I take quite seriously. I possess the freedom and the ability to remember; this freedom is intact and as a custodian of my own, my society’s and my religion’s memory, I have the ability and the responsibility to exercise one of the most formidable defenses against the many forces that encourage amnesia and threaten the basis of my personal and cultural awareness and identity. 42 Antonio Damasio quoted in: "The Autobiography of Consciousness and the New Cognitive Existentialism," Janus Head, Vol. ? No.?. 72
  73. 73. If, in opening both my narrative self and my inner self to others, readers may see ways to describe and give expression to their lives and in so doing be open further to the immense richness of life's experience, that would give me pleasure. For, as 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote in the opening pages of The Secret of Divine Civilization, "there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight"43 than "an individual, looking within himself, should find that....he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men."44 Time will tell, of course, how successful I have been in this regard. I make no claim, though, to my life being some apotheosis of the Baha'i character as, say, Benjamin Franklin's autobiographical persona was of the prevailing conception of the American character back in the eighteenth century. Baha'i character and personality, it is my view, is simply too varied to be said to receive an apotheosis or typification in someone's life. Franklin, and many autobiographers since, have been interested in self-promotion and in being an exemplar for the edification and moral improvement of their 43 'Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970(1928), p.3. 44 idem 73
  74. 74. community, exempla as they are known in the western religious traditions. I have taken little interest in the former or the latter as I proceeded to write this work. The Baha'i community has acquired many exempla in the last two hundred years45 and only one true Exemplar. If this work plays some role, however limited, in developing an "aristocracy of distinction," as Franklin's did, and in contributing to "the power of understanding,"46 as this great Cause goes on from strength to strength in the years ahead, I would welcome such a development. To think that this work could play a part, however small, in the advancement of civilization, may be yet another somewhat pretentious thought, but it is a hope, an aspiration, consistent with the system of Baha'i ideals and aims which has been part of my ethos, my philosophy of life, for nearly half a century now. And finally, like Franklin, I leave a great deal out of this autobiography, a great deal about my times, my religion and myself. I make no apologies for this any more than I make any apologies to particular individuals I have 45 If one defines Shaykh Ahmad's leaving his home in eastern Arabia in 1793 as a starting point for the story of this new religion and the completion of the first edition of this autobiography as 1993, then there are two centuries of religious experience to draw on for various kinds of exemplars, heroes, saints and wondrous personages. I'm not so sure I deserve to be included in this list of exemplars. 46 Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, Wilmette, 1974, p.17. 74
  75. 75. known along the way. Conscious of the problem in autobiographical literature of the "aggrandisement of the self," I stress the very ordinariness of my life, my part of a larger, collective, community memory and the coherence of my life around a host of themes which can never be considered in isolation from the communities that shape and inform their values. It is an ordinariness, though, that has taken place over so many locations in towns and cities that the destruction of familiar and historied edifices, a destruction that amounts to the creation of a memory hole for local people, a memory hole into which psychic energies and entities are irretrievably drawn, to the considerable impoverishment of what remains behind, has not been a critical part of my experience. My life has been in so many ways one that has had to deal with the shock of the new and the making of this newness into a familiarity and home. Literary memories are many in my life: from many of the passages in the Baha’i writings like Baha’u’llah’s “from the sweet-scented streams” to Shoghi Effendi’s “a tempest unprecedented in its magnitude” help this work to chart its course among a host of visionary uses of memory. The Baha’i vision of the future has been an important inspiration in my day to day life; indeed, I would go so far as to say that this vision is much more than 75

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